104 in 2014: 8. collected works

It’s a tricky balance, this reading and writing thing. You know, time spent reading is time not spent writing, and vice versa. And time spent reading, or writing, is time not spent reviewing. So, in  brief, I am running months behind on reviewing the books I’ve been reading this year.

Don’t think, for a moment, that this means I’ve not been working towards our reading challenge of 104 books for the year. I’ve been working very, very hard indeed. But now it’s time to pause for a moment in the relentless pursuit of that next great read and share these 10 reviews:

#71The House at Sea's End cover The House at Sea’s End by Elly Griffiths (Read 25/04/2014)  This is the third, and, I think for me, last, of the Ruth Galloway mysteries, despite the intriguing promise of exploring issues around the keeping of the remains of Australian Aborigines in UK museums in the next book. A professional review of the sixth in the series is still citing the same strengths and flaws that I found with the first, and with this title – it’s more of a character study than a mystery, it’s full of pointless red herrings, and the ending feels rushed and forced. I do find the characters interesting, but I’m just not going to persist since the rest of the reading experience isn’t worth it. Frustrating, as I like the premise and the setting for these books, and this one – with the Norfolk coastline collapsing into the sea – was very evocative.

#72The collected works of A.J. Fikry cover The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin (Read 1/05/2014) This is a beautifully written book – I liked the way the story built, and as an avid reader and librarian I loved the way it dealt with the transformative power of books. I was vastly amused by the eponymous AJ’s list of what he was willing to read (and sell in his bookstore) – he’s such a book snob! And there’s part of the problem – AJ is a book snob, and this novel seems sometimes too calculated to appeal to book snobs, book clubs and librarians. By the books we love, so shall you know us – readers are collected works! Yes, OK, I can run with the emotional manipulation and pandering to my delight in thinking of myself as well-read, and there’s plenty for a book club to talk about. BUT then… there is a seemingly pointless and jarring leap forward of eight years, in which nothing much seems to have happened except the child character has grown up to a teenager. Things are slapped together, mysteries are solved in a way that completely undermines previous character development, and sad things happen and life goes on. What the…???? At only 240ish pages. this is not a big book. Why cobble together the (for me, unsatisfactory) ending in such a way? It left me frustrated.

#73Libriomancer cover Libriomancer by Jim C. Hines (Read 3/05/2014) I wanted to read this author, because I admire what he’s been doing about confronting sexism in sci-fi and fantasy novels – his parodies of cover art are a brilliant way of addressing a serious issue. And then I read the premise – libriomancy is a type of magic that allows the wielder to reach into a book and pull out any item. OH, YEAH. Now I know what I want to be when I grow up! This is good, contemporary urban fantasy for sci-fi/fantasy book nerds, choc-full of geeky pop culture references, and an amusing abundance of literary vampire sub-species. Kicked out of doing fieldwork by the secret society of libriomancers, the main character is working as a cataloguer for them, and as a librarian in a small-town public library when some sparkly vampires come to pay him a very destructive visit.  A few reviews I’ve read seem to have missed the point of the resolution and I’m not sure if that’s because it doesn’t tick the box of the reviewers’ narrow definition of a happily-ever-after, or if they didn’t get the relevance of a nymph character actually having freedom of choice (she can’t help it, she was written that way). So, you know, go and read it and let me know what you think.

#74Red Delicious cover Red Delicious by Kathleen Tierney (Read 4/05/2014) Quinn is a great urban fantasy creation, and I was very much looking forward to her second adventure. On balance, I was far from disappointed, even if I didn’t like this book as unreservedly as the first in the series. There’s plenty of betrayal, conniving and violence between all the monstrous factions, which was excellent. The thing that jarred me most in the novel was the inclusion of an, admittedly clever, noirish, short story. It annoyed me that the voice of the narrator for the story, allegedly written decades before, was so close to the narrator of the novel. I’ve subsequently seen, in the Publishers Weekly review, that the short story is one that the author has had “frequently reprinted”. So, I guess that explains that. Still, if you like your urban fantasy extra-gritty, I think you’ll like Blood Orange and Red Delicious.

#75The Finer Points of Sausage Dogs cover The Finer Points of Sausage Dogs by Alexander McCall Smith (Read 8/05/2014) I’ve not been as charmed by the Portuguese Irregular Verbs series by Alexander McCall Smith, as I have by his other series. That’s not to say I don’t like them – I think they are clever and funny – just not as delightful as the others. Maybe it’s just me, and I’m less entranced by the foibles of German academic linguists, than I am by the musings of Scottish philosophers and Botswanan lady detectives. Regardless, this was a nice, little volume to beguile my time, full of the self-important bumbling of an egomaniac professor and the opportunistic one-upmanship of fossilised academia – I do love that they utterly fail to realise how unimportant their little niche world of philology is.

#76The Pursuit of Mary Bennet cover The Pursuit of Mary Bennet by Pamela Mingle (Read 10/05/2014) Sigh. I have to stop doing this to myself. I read these Pride and Prejudice sequels and they annoy me with their anachronistic behaviour and language, and then I see another one and I think “maybe this one will be better”. Well, I’m not recommending this telling of what happened to the middle Bennet sister after Jane and Lizzy married Bingley and Darcy, unless you like the lightest of light, predictable romances, with the faintest wafting of period setting overlaid with an entirely modern sensibility when it comes to child rearing. Mary, pre-packaged with a reformed character quite different from the one Austen assigned her, is not convincing here, and her romantic interest is lacklustre. Sigh, indeed.

#77The edge of nowhere cover The Edge of Nowhere by Elizabeth George (Read 14/05/2014) This is the first in a series about a psychic teenager who is on the run with her mother, trying to avoid her stepfather. Apart from the frankly unbelievable set up, where her mother drops her off just short of her destination and never makes sure she has reached it, it’s quite a good YA story. (See, that’s the thing with a lot of teen fiction – the problem of disposing of the parents.) There are interesting characters and a really nice setting, with enough mysteries threaded through to make me pick up the next in the series.

#78Tapestry cover Tapestry by Fiona McIntosh (Read 17/05/2014) I posted a review of this highly enjoyable novel here because I couldn’t wait (as it turns out) almost four months to tell you that you should read it.

#79The reluctant heiress cover The Reluctant Heiress by Eva Ibbotson (Read 19/05/2014) This is one of Ibbotson’s sweet romances, starring an impoverished Austrian princess, and a self-made English businessman, and taking place not long after World War I has ended. And it that’s all it was about that would be, you know, fine, because Ibbotson writes beautifully. But it is also about Music, specifically opera, and Art and Beauty and how they are more important than money and class. I adored this book – I just loved the characters, the way that the leads discover how much they have in common, the way that the hero discovers how little in common he has with his fiancee (oh how I loved the fiancee and her dreadful, dreadful family), the loving descriptions of Vienna, the drama and shambles of the opera company … just everything, really.

#80The edge of the water cover The Edge of the Water by Elizabeth George (Read 23/05/2014) Ah, well, it’s got more teen angst than I like in a story (and, yes, I know I’m not the target market, but I’m just saying) so the whole break up and new relationship, and should they or shouldn’t they engage in sexting/sex/whatever left me underwhelmed – although I did laugh out loud at the scene where the guy reluctantly accompanies his new girlfriend to her school prayer group meeting and is excrutiatingly embarassed by her asking Jesus to help her not be tempted to break her pledge of virginity.  That’s gotta burn. Anyway, I found that all of that sat a little oddly beside the mystery plot which wasn’t a mystery to me. Spoiler alert so avert your eyes, gentle reader is you’re not wanting a spoiler – but, if you read any fantasy or folklore you’ll spot fairly early on that the seal that keeps revisiting the island is not entirely natural and you’ll twig that she’s a selkie. No problem, story wise. What I found hilarious was the indignant review I read online for this book that basically said how dare the author introduce such a ridiculous fantasy element into this story, which up to this point and including the first book was totally real world.  OK, except that the central premise is that the main character can hear people’s thoughts. Totally. Real. World. I will probably pick up the next in the series when it is published, just to see where the characters go.

And that’s it – a bit rambly and month’s late, but I hope there’s something here that helps you choose your next great read.